Purposeful spaces. Not safe spaces

My blog is not a safe space.  I’ve never claimed it was a safe space, I’ve never suggested or implied safety or protection or promised I will avoid certain topics.  Having said that, I have never covered rape, politics, religion, ideologies, or anything much more than a pile of science and my own ideas about brains and how they work.  But I could cover any of those if I wanted, because it’s my blog.

My blog is a purposeful space.  I could cover anything, right here and now.  My blog is for the purpose of having a space for me to post content on the internet.

Most of the times I have heard of a safe space, it’s been getting into trouble for not being a safe space.  My problem with safe space is ineffectiveness.  While struggling to articulate why this is a problem, I stumbled across the words that I needed.

A safe space fits inside the broader category of a space that is designated to a particular purpose.  My house is a purposeful space, it’s purpose is to be the residence in which I live. My office is a purposeful space, it’s the space in which I work.  I could live out of my office and work out of my home if I want to.

A purposeful space is defined by intention.  Wikipedia is a purposeful website space for “developing and maintaining open content, wiki-based projects and providing the full contents of those projects to the public free of charge.  A church is a purposeful space for religious worship.  The chess club is a purposeful space for people to meet and play chess.

A purposeful space risks being leaky around the purpose.  People in the chess club can also make friends and be social, some people might go to the chess club and never play chess.  The chess club is not about tiling the universe with ongoing chess games.  But after a while, if more people stand around making friends than playing chess, maybe just maybe it’s time to rename the chess club to “friend club”.

The trouble with a safe space is, what happens when it’s not safe?  What do we do with an unsafe safe space? Do we throw out the cause of the lack of safety?  That feels pretty uncomfortable if it’s a person being thrown out – feels unsafe for that person probably.  Seems like the main thing that a safe space does is cause arguments around the safety or relative lack of safety of the space (although I imagine they can do a lot of good and are designed with positive intention in mind).

In contrast, the purposeful space of the “chess club” reacts differently to a failure of the purpose.  In a purposeful space, anyone can walk in and notice the purpose not being fulfilled. And figure out what we do when that happens.  “It looks like people are not playing chess in the chess club, I thought the purpose of the chess club was to play chess. Who wants to play chess with me?”.

“Well actually this is the friend club, chess club is in the next room over, but you are welcome to stay and be friends”.

The solution to a failed purpose is to do what I might naturally do, “looks like the chess club does not play chess, I am leaving”.  This idea expands, “looks like the Australian Health Party is more concerned about anti-vaccination than it is about my values around health.  I am going to vote for someone else.” (*this policy may have changed) And when reflected to a safe space, “the space that was supposed to be safe doesn’t feel safe to me, I don’t have any safe space to go to!”.

In a purposeful space, who has the ”right” to question the purpose?  That depends on the defined purpose. In the world of smart etherium contracts the evaluation is carried out by existing technological processes.  In the world of humans, a human can evaluate the purpose. Humans have built in machinery to let them evaluate ideas or purposes.  From that, consensus is all that is needed to change a purposeful space back to its purpose.

There is a question of expectation, obligation.  Who is obligated in a purposeful space, who has the right to place any expectations on reality and declare that reality should conform to my desires and expectations?  (I do declare war against the current configuration of the atoms in the universe and desire a different setup)

Private purpose space

See also “No Homers Club”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbXjt_ZlVOE

Some purposeful spaces appear to be public spaces, but in fact don’t act like public spaces.  Yes it’s called the chess club but it’s actually just where Alice goes to hang out with her friends and play poker.  If Bob wants to try to play chess in what is implied as the chess club, he’s going to have a bad time.

What’s the point of labelling it the chess club if that’s not what happens in the room?  I’m going to tag this paragraph, “signalling purposes”. This labelling error is tedious and annoying for anyone trying to sort the universe by it’s arbitrary label.  But maybe a chess club gets tax privilege over a poker club or some other kind of signalling bonus where only a specific kind of person is willing to seek out a chess club, and those are all of the people Alice wants to make friends with.  

Keep an eye out for the hidden purpose of a space.  Not all purposes are obvious. Welcome to reality where sometimes people don’t label reality accurately for any number of internally useful reasons.

Purposeful spaces and unsavory purposes

Sometimes a space is needed to discuss unsavory topics, or process unsavory experiences.  The police need a space where they can talk about terrorist tactics so that they can plan around how to protect society from terrorism.

Therapy needs to be a place that I can embarrassingly express that I fantasise about killing my boss without being condemned and without my boss finding out.  Without the purposeful space and the privacy to describe my fantasy, there would be less safety, I could not address the embarrassment which is bothering me around my fantasy, or the frustration that caused the fantasy, and I could not effectively process that frustration to a more savory and prosocial experience to share with other people.  

The inside of my own head needs to be a space where I can go to unsavory places too.  If I can never entertain that fantasy, I can never process it and let it go, the idea becomes a thorn in my side until it either drives me mad, trying to get me to process it, interact with it, validate that experience or I die with the concept incomplete.

There’s a fear, that if I permit the unsavory, I might actually get to the unconscionable act of killing my boss.  I want to lock down even thinking about permitting those thoughts so that I don’t accidentally do that either.  Suddenly a part of my brain lives in vigilance and fear of what I cannot think (because I’m not allowed). Then guilt.  A layer of feeling bad about the fear about the things I can’t think. Then anger, about feeling guilty, I only feel guilty about hating myself because I believe I am a bad person, then depression, because I can’t be angry all the time, I’m so tired of that.  (and on it goes)

This fear, the layers of emotions, are more likely to do damage than just entertaining that thought to begin with.  And accepting that from the start. In this way, entertaining madness is closer to the sane choice than clinging to sanity is to approaching madness.

It’s not always possible, maybe I don’t feel like I can go to unsavory places on my own.  That’s what good therapy, spirituality or friends are for. Remember, other people’s problems never look as bad as my own.  So maybe there’s a use for sharing problems.

Purposeful spaces are needed.  For healing, growth, training/practice, creativity, play, experimentation/trials, safety, ideas.  And for most of these, already exist.

Foundations for a purposeful space

  • Purpose/intention
  • Privacy/segregation
  • Time + patience
  • Space (free space, spare space)
  • Acceptance/safety
  • wonder/curiosity/willingness

And a question – how many of these are covered by the word “permission” to do these things.

Presently I see with purpose.  I reflectively look at intention.  I rest on a layer above the simple present.  I try to see where that’s coming from. Because maybe then I can navigate the undefined purposes of all the rest of reality.

How do we cultivate possibility without the purposeful intention to do so?  My existence is a purposeful space. The purpose is an unfolding discovery of the purpose of this space.

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Leaky concepts

When is a door not a door?  When it’s Ajar.

See also: motte and bailey fallacy by Scott Alexander,  The 5-second level, Disguised theories, Neural Categories By Eliezer Yudkowsky. No Boundary By Ken Wilber.

Every concept when challenged with reality is a leaky concept (even this one).  The idea of a circle seems pretty great until I try to draw one in chalk on pavement.  If you want to go mad, commit to drawing two lines the same length and don’t stop until you are dead from trying to line up atoms to be in the right places.  There are quicker ways to go insane.

The map-territory distinction makes it difficult to pin down a mapped concept in the territory.  The strange thing about reality is that despite there being a gap between minds, we generally have managed to communicate, to get things done, and to build a world.  This world. The world in which we live in. Bricks and mortar, bits and atoms alike. We did it.  We got to here, even though every concept leaks to all buggery.

Take “science man” in the prehistoric times of the savannah.

Cave man: “run it’s a lion”

Science man: “actually that’s a leopard, judging by its spots, I’d say it’s running at 40mph and will get here- augh!”

*science man gets eaten by leopard*

This silly example hopefully drives home the point of “how much does that leak matter?”.  For most of history, for most conversations the difference between lion and leopard did not matter.  Being right about which it was, had no effect on the basis of the following actions.

We don’t live in that world so much.  We live in the world of The Mars Climate Orbiter, which is now the reason that all space calculations are done in metric.

The discrepancy between calculated and measured position… had been noticed earlier by at least two navigators, whose concerns were dismissed because they “did not follow the rules about filling out [the] form to document their concerns””

“Oh that silly space agency, I’d never make such a mistake…”

“No one in my life has ever tried to say my name and accidentally used my sibling’s name and my dogs name before finally using my name…”

The way we measure or define a concept, and rely on a shared meaning of a concept is not going to be slightly wrong enough to cause serious errors that go unnoticed right up until something terrible happens.  Except for that one time, and that other time…

“Trajectories and locations are measured in local units” – Just a simple belief.

“Human children are named in a relational cluster to myself, my map refers to any name in the cluster of ‘child’ or ‘epsilon’ which is suitable to communicate to this one”

“The difference between lions and leopards are significant in this moment”

There is crack in everything

Everything is leaky!  How did we do it? How did we create a world where we can communicate even though everything leaks?

Most of the time leaking doesn’t matter.  Except when it does. When I need to be able to notice that the concept I was trying to communicate, has more holes than it has substance.  Subjective holes in places that make it a flawed concept.

To a zookeeper, the difference between a lion pen and a leopard pen is a lot more important than to caveman running for his life (probably).  The significance of a leaky concept is subjectively relevant to the person applying it and the effect that the leak will have on their life (their Upper left quadrant, subjective reality).

What do I do with leaky concepts now?  Add it to the toolkit of vigilance of the ways that words can be used and carry on.  Maybe it comes in handy some time.

Bonus content: the way buddhism talks about “the self” as a leaky concept being a foundation for 1/3rd of all the teachings.  There is no fixed self, the edges of the skin are one boundary that can be drawn but the stuff inside that boundary is always changing anyway, and the stuff outside is constantly interacting with it enough to make that boundary arbitrary.

Cross post to lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/iSSXfBnCmjqWEb7Pm/leaky-concepts

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Dojo on stress

This (thinking) dojo came about because someone described their biggest problem as stress, relating to recent job-change events.  I ran this dojo in Melbourne and Sydney to an audience of ~10 people each time. (45mins-1hr long)

As the facilitator:

  1. Say yes.  Accept what people bring.  There’s no wrong answer. Each person is bringing the most valuable thing for themselves to the discussion.  
  2. There is a need to balance the group time and let everyone talk if they want to, but generally people are aware of that.  If needed, thank someone and bring their awareness to the fact that this is a group event and everyone needs to participate to grow.  The exercise is not about being right but about sharing and discussing stress.
  3. Make empty space, (time when nothing is said) both for people to think, and for less talkative people to step up and share. Speak slowly, there is no rush.
  4. There is no need to force participation, feel free to mention that anyone can pass at any time.  It might be healthy to model “pass” behaviour at the start by getting everyone to say out loud “pass”.  “What do you say if you don’t want to contribute and you want to pass?” (“PASS” duh)

1. Share a stressful experience.

Each person should share a personal or significant experience of stress that they have encountered in their life.  It doesn’t have to still be “alive”, but it has to be personally relevant to them being engaged in the discussion and get an internal sense of what “stress” is and the sorts of things we are talking about.  (if doing this on your own, write down your experience, spend a few minutes waiting with the memories to get a sense of how it felt to be in the body during that experience, feel free to write more than one down)

(1-2mins per person)

Briefly check for a common theme.  I.e. stress caused by interpersonal relationships or work.  Be mindful of that when continuing the exercise.

2. Causes of stress

Stress usually has a cause in life.  Each person is different, each person will know their own common causes of stress.  Make a list of personal and common causes of stress.

(2 mins alone making a list, 5-10 mins to discuss the general possible causes of stress and build a group list)  (if alone, you can google it, but with emphasis that this exercise is not about getting the right answer, but more about being aware of the parts of the stress problem and playing around with them in mind in one session.)

2. What are the signs of stress.

How would you know someone else was stressed?  How would you know you were stressed? Make a list as a group discussion. There’s a short list at the bottom AFTER you have made your own list of the relevant signs.

(2 mins by timer by ourselves then 10mins for group discussion)  (if alone, spend more time making the list)

Get specific to name a few instances if it helps people participate.  “This one time I was stressed about X and I kept having nightmares”. etc.

3. what do you do about stress?  How do you relieve that stress?

get specific about how to wind down, how to rest, how to relax, feel safe, distract, and more. (list at the bottom AFTER the exercise to compare notes)

(2 mins by timer by ourselves then 10mins for group discussion)  (if alone, spend more time making the list)

Being Strategic

Once we know what causes stress, what stress looks like, and what to do about stress when it comes up, the last thing left to do is to be mindful.  Notice the causes, notice the signs that come up and act appropriately. As long as I am aware of my body, my behaviour and my actions, I can effectively manage my own stress and the stress of the people around me.

4. Anything else we want to share about stress?

How to tell someone else they are stressed without the words coming across like a slap in the face:

  • “I feel like you are stressed”
  • “I noticed you keep pacing, are you stressed?”  
  • (instead of, “you are stressed, stop that”)

Share any other personal stress stories or thoughts that come up from the exercise.  If we are done, go to the conclusion. (10 mins)


Reflect on if this is helpful personally.  How can I tie this into my life. How can I notice the stress?  How can I grow to use this information. Consider reminding myself in a month to check if I still do this.  Consider how I can plan a “stress check” into my weekly routine. Consider how I can make use of this information.  (3-5mins on our own doing what is needed to carry this out) (share any particularly good ones 5 mins)

The following lists are incomplete, they are here for clues, feel free to make your own or ignore these.

Causes of stress

  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Emotions
  • Food/diet
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Mistakes, accidents
  • Emergencies
  • Surprises
  • Major events or life milestones
  • Big projects
  • Moving house/city
  • Family changes

Stress signs

  • Body based sensations (tightness, sweat, feeling heavy, doom, heart rate)
  • behaviour changes (posture changes, pacing, staying out late, sleep changes)
  • Expressions (face stuff, behaviour, I know I am confused from the confusion expression)
  • Emotions (aaaaah!, Sad, scared, flustered, etc)
  • Energy (lethargy, overactive)
  • Actions (eating more, injury)
  • dreams…  

What do you do about stress?

  • Take a bath
  • Distract myself
  • Leave the room
  • Meditate
  • Play video games
  • Sleep
  • Talk to someone about it
  • Pamper myself
  • Let go of trying to control everything and make sure it goes well
  • Stop doing the thing (sometimes an option)
  • Eat something
  • Concrete checks (have I eaten, drank, slept, got sunlight, spoken to friends) (you feel like shit guide)

Thanks for participating, feel free to get in touch with feedback.

Cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/mxv78X93gRses85Za/dojo-on-stress

Google doc for comments: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tme_NC3tusCXhwvEz_CaATx9nVp0IN4i-Pf4m0DVA2I/edit#

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Is this how I choose to show up?

Is this how I choose to show up?  No.

I’m exhausted.  I’m just trying to survive here and today I did that.  Not every today. But I did this today. Yes.

Is this how I choose to show up?  No.

I’m doing better than surviving but am I a good person?  Did I do the right thing? Will I be going to heaven or hell for this.  Is this how I choose to show up? Yes. I did the right thing. If I survive or not, I know I did the right thing.

Is this how I choose to show up?  No.

I’ve aligned myself to the right people.  If I follow them, then I know I’m a good person.  They can help me survive. But are they the right people?  How would I know? Yes. This is right. The gods are with us.  And even if they aren’t, they can’t hate me for being on the side of the right people.  The gods might smite us for being wrong. The gods might be on our side. I might survive being on this side, I might not.  Yes. This is right.

Is this how I choose to show up?  No.

I’m working in a team.  We are building something for all of us.  We are ordered and structured, that’s part of why the world is safe, because of our order.  I don’t know if it’s the right people but at least we are working together. And hey – it’s a job, it’s worth it to do good work.  It’s pay. It’s enough to survive. But is it enough for me? Am I getting what I want? Maybe if I knew better. The science, the tests to run I could get this team working better.  How do I do that? Yes. It’s okay, I’ve got this how I am. I might not survive but at least I’m part of this big idea, and through this big idea I survive. It’s not that the gods might smite us, we are the gods now.  We make the ideas. We live or die by the ideas we make and if they survive the long haul. It’s us against the gods of time. And of course the other people’s big ideas. Maybe our idea beats their idea by sheer will of structure, and I have all the right people with me, and even if I didn’t, that’s okay too I guess.  Maybe we aren’t right, and I’m okay with that too, as long as we try. In the true arena of ideas, the best ideas win. Yes.

Is this how I choose to show up?  No.

I’m running the tests.  I’m getting that recognition for being right in the ways I’m right.  In all the ways I know, I know that I’m doing well. All that unknown, it’s not safe, but I’m coming to conquer it.  I have my team, but I don’t need them, they follow me because I’m right. I’m aligned with the right person, because the right person is me, and with god as my witness I will make it.  But am I doing enough for everyone else too? Yes. I am doing my best.

I’m here to survive.  Capitalism is key. It’s a system and I’m making my system to win.  The gods of old are no match for the gods of the seed of pure corporate power.  My corporate gods battling out in the free market against the other corporate gods for our survival.  It’s me against nature, but it’s not just mother nature any more, the forest lands are long gone. She was soft, but human nature.  That’s the battle. It needs shaping, it needs guiding, it needs advertising and convincing. That’s how we get them. One group at a time.  May the best human win. As long as they have those close to them. That’s the seat of my power. The people around me. And the people around them.  And the people who are here to build something, build something that matters to us. And make ourselves rich in the process. Yes. This is how I show up.

Is this how I choose to show up?  No.

I’m consulting, I’m connected, I’m empathic and understanding.  I’m listening like never before. I refuse to fall for the mistakes of the past.  It’s not just about knowing the truth, it’s about sharing the truth. When we share our truth, our ideas, our science, The things we build together.  That’s how we grow together. Ever upwards. As a community we can reach the top. The place of legends. We can get ourselves back there, to the place of legends.  We too can be in tune with our nature and find new wholeness of being.

We have to defend our truth against those who are greedy.  The world was not meant to be taken from the many by the few.  We need to purge the poison from our midst. We do that together.  Big structure is our enemy. We need the right amount of anarchy to fix this.  It takes a bit of terror to break a broken system. Working together as small collective, we can rise up against the gods of oppression, Moloch and the tragedy of the commons.  Together we make the world a better place. For not just me and you, but everyone who ever is or was oppressed. We can make the world they died for. Yes. This is how I choose to show up.

Is this how I choose to show up?  No.

It’s not enough.  I look at myself and everywhere I’ve passed through and it’s not enough.  I can’t just survive, I need more than that to make purpose. I can’t just worship a benevolent god.  If the gods are benevolent they are irrelevant, and in that irrelevance, they made their own noose. The gods have to be here with me or they don’t deserve to be here.  I can’t just follow the people who I think are right. I’ve followed enough wrong people to know. People aren’t just right on their own, people are right by having the right ideas.  And the right ideas only come from collaboration. From working together. But that’s not enough either. Working together breeds corruption, broken systems. I have to worship science, rationalism, the free market.  Doing my own experiments. Leading my own path. But that’s not enough. The free market sold out the environment. My science deluded me, replication crisis and terrible statistics. What if I delude everyone? I can run more tests but no matter how many tests I run, I can never eliminate the human factor.  The human factor seems to be the cause and solution to all our problems. If only there were a way to fully embody all that it is to be the human factor and know what it is to be human and still grow. No. It’s hideous. The nature of humans is all this. At all levels. And so I ask myself, today. Is this how I choose to show up?  Yes.

I survive.  Not by worshipping the gods, but by becoming them.  I lead the people. Not on my own, but with my ideas, by fully embodying my ideas, I become my ideas, my gods.  By collaborating with my collective. And it’s not just my ideas, it’s the scientific and rational truth. We stand on the shoulders of giants to look forward.  And it’s not just the truth, it’s the truth for everyone. And by living and breathing the truth for everyone, comfortable, uncomfortable truth.

I can step out of my human nature and see, for the first time, clearly, where I came from.  And where I am going. I can see how all the parts of me, engage with all the parts of you, and we, and us.  

I live and embody the question, “is this how I choose to show up?”.  This is how I choose to show up. In the question, the paragraph, in the page, in the wonder, in the being ever forward facing.  Yes. THIS IS where I am. Yes THIS IS where I came from. And yes. I’m not done. Yes. This is how I choose to show up.

Is this how I choose to show up?  Yes. No. Not in the answer, but in the question, “is this how I choose to show up?”

Picture from the new Spiral Dynamics In action book.

Thanks for reading.

If this post is cryptic, its because I’ve picked up the developmental psychology model of spiral dynamics and it’s still growing on me.

“Is this how I choose to show up?”, falls into the category of something of a mantra. Also the phrase falls into the category of strange esoteric knowledge that came to me while meditating.

For those interested in chakras, the phrase has an alignment to the chakra system that just so happens to be beautiful. It also has an alignment to [Past|Present|Future], so it becomes a particularly orienting phrase. (“is this” – past, “How I choose” – present, “To show up?” – future)

I’m asking myself this question, and when I find the answer, I ask myself again.

Cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/cr9S7AJiryazXpikF/is-this-how-i-choose-to-show-up

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(meetup question) How to be happy?

I attended a philosophy meetup and needed a topic on the fly. I asked the question “how to be happy?”. The best part was how the first person tore the question open and answered a better question because happy doesn’t make sense. It’s got more to do with contentment or well being or meaning than caring about a subjective happy mood state that we can get into based on some criteria. Some moments are Sad and should be sad. That’s a good thing, I don’t want to make myself happy in situations where sadness is appropriate.

After that line of thinking died down, we went on to find more pieces of the puzzle. As we can expect, each person had different parts of the puzzle that were more and less important. I struggle to find any of these answers wrong, and it’s remarkable how much each person can know and bring to a discussion. 

Here’s the list of suggestions on, “how to be happy?”:

  • deal with trauma in a healthy way
  • be content, don’t aim for happy
  • be aware and stay inside my comfort zone
  • do plenty of learning
  • avoid being focused on pleasing others
  • find a balance
  • sleep
  • be productive
  • understand emotions and how to work with them
  • self understanding
  • watch out for alcohol
  • seek things you know will make you happy
  • crying as a release
  • be aware of what doesn’t make you happy
  • reduce the gap between expectation and reality
  • gratitude/appreciation practices
  • remove negative thoughts
  • ignore other people’s opinions of you
  • being proved wrong about bad things
  • wallowing in sadness (is sometimes good)
  • interpersonal connections
  • threshold around being content
  • introspective awareness of contentment
  • let go of negative things

I didn’t get to stay for too long pestering them all to generate answers but I appreciate all the contributions I did get. For me I rest in the question. I feel like there isn’t one answer, there is only good questions.

What more is possible?

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This is an experimental investigation of map and territory.

Map and territory is a relationship where the map represents the territory.. The map is not the territory, that we know.

Scribbling on the map does not change the territory

I am in my house, sitting at a table with a picture of planet earth. There’s a relationship between the picture and myself because technically I am in that picture map. But also I am looking at that picture and I recognise it as a map of the territory that I live in. There’s a boundary between me and the map.

Now I have a map of the land mass of Australia. I am both in a territory represented by the map, and this map describes me (weakly).

Now I have a map of my city. There’s again the same relationship. Two ways. I am in my city, but also my city map is separate from me because it sits on my table in front of me.

now I have a map (floorplan) of my house.

I am looking at a piece of paper, the map is external to the territory of me walking around my house.

Now I have a 3d model of my house. It includes the table I’m standing in front of, and a mini version of all my maps on the table, and a 3d house model.

there’s a boundary where I am looking at the map and not in the map.

but I’ve also got a little figurine of myself in my 3d model. My figurine appears to be looking at the mini 3d model of the house that’s resting on his table. There’s a boundary here. A relationship between me and the model.

where I am looking at an external model of myself looking at an external model of myself.

But now I am here. In my head. With an internal map of myself, standing here, looking at myself in the wholeness of my being, and I ask,

“where is the boundary between myself and the map?”

Now might be a good time to pause or reflect on the exercise before reading on.  Obviously I can’t make you do that but I considered ending the whole article here for that effect.

Some Discussion

Friend: would it be that you is what remains when you turn away from the map. If it’s in your mind, then you remain when you stop thinking of the map?

Me: “what is the “you” that remains when “you” stop thinking of the map?

Friend: If we define identity the way I think you’re pointing at, then the you constantly changes. So, sure, that “you” is no longer there when you turn away from the map.

Me: Yes. From that place, repeating the exercise, the new map now includes that information “the ‘you’ always changes“. And I can ask the same question. “what is the you that remains separate from the map?”

Existing map-less is very hard. The human brain really likes to put maps around things. I will be thinking, “I am map-less” and then realise that “thinking, ‘I am map-less'” is a map too. There is a realisation that there is only one real territory (that we live in), and it’s very hard to exist in the territory and not the map. And a further realisation that, for everyone else who exists in their maps and not “in the territory” they are also just genuinely existing in the territory too because maps are in the territory too.

From that place can come an acceptance of anyone and anything as they are. Being as their being is, bringing what they bring. Because that’s (from my perspective, from the outside that person) the territory.

I feel like this exercise has the opportunity to generate weird feelings. Sometimes confusion, sometimes fear or dizzy or any number of other experiences. That’s the point. The purpose is to then enable the experimenter to explore the feelings that have come up. What does that mean for the nature of reality that I live in. What’s the dizzy trying to help explain to me? I wonder what is going on.

Special mention of the book No Boundary by Ken Wilbur of Integral Theory

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Container and contained theory by Wilfred Bion

Epistemic status: notes about a specific scientific theory.  relevant to therapy, interpersonal relationships and healthy development.  Also includes some personal ideas around the theory.

Container and contained is a psychological theory by Wilfred Bion building on the work by Jung. It’s my current reading project.

The Theory

In the mother/child relationship the mother is the container and the child is the contained. A baby is not good at emotions.  It’s also not good at “strange and new” unfortunately for a developing mind, there’s a lot of strange. And without having any foundation “new” pattern matches to “unknown” and therefore according to the theory “death” or “bad”. The mother has two types of container actions.

The first is to see the pain of the child and present their own emotional strength in the face of it. “no now is a time to be happy” and therefore model the healthy ways to form emotional attachment to experience.  Food is good, hungry is bad. Injury is bad, laughter is good. The second container is more like, “I see your pain and I am able to hold your emotions and be okay. I can be sad too, and not die”.

The two containers are also relevant to therapy.  That’s:

  1. I see your pain and I am okay. And
  2. I can copy your pain, demonstrate having it, and then effectively model self soothing. (as a mature adult container).

The theory also discusses sensory experiences prior to conceptualisation as beta states and interpersonal cognition as alpha function. β: “I see the object”, 𝜶: “object reminds me of my mean friend and therefore (as a 2 year old) the object makes the world upset”. Early childhood is a process of calibrating these states and testing experiences.

Ultimately the healthy adult is their own self sufficient container and knows how to do both containers to their own emotions when they are needed.

A lot of social/friending seems like pairwise containerising.

A friend saying “you are right, I am scared too”, creates the emotional mirroring validation of a container. Or a friend (coach? Archetype) “bravely” saying, “it’s okay to be afraid”.

It seems unclear how to know which container is right, other than “to know already”. It seems like there is no research on this. There is little information on the container theory as it is because it’s still developing.

I have been experimenting with noticing container styles and watching it happen. Today I noticed someone do the wrong one for a particular moment for me. Minutes later they did the other container which was wrong in that situation too.  Internally it was funny. The poor friend probably just felt unhelpful for that moment. Planning to watch myself and which container I tend to give. See how I go and if I can sense into the other one and check to see if it’s more useful.

I suspect that I want lots of “being and being strong” container and I give that off a lot too. Even if it’s sometimes the wrong one.  I don’t want people to take my emotions and be moved by them or to model their management of the emotions. I want them to see me as I am and just be. Suspect that this comes from a particular failing of my upbringing and other people will be different.

I suspect there’s more here in terms of what beliefs and structures are implicitly created by the two types of container. Where the “taking emotions” does more of a, “let me model that for you” and the “just watching and being strong” does more of the, “you are showing me how much of a strong and independent agent you are”.

By different underlying needs, we uncover different underlying desire for validation experiences. There is also probably insight here about BPD and a constantly shifting goalpost where maybe someone can be in a state where “I can’t model my own emotions healthily so don’t watch me”, at the same time as “don’t tell me what to do”. With basically the worst of both worlds of lack/need.

Maybe there’s an internalisation of safe/secure existence?

Where it’s first parentally modelled and later it’s owned by the child.  in theory, a trained alpha function brain knows how to conceptualise keeping itself safe. And carries that information everywhere.   “safe” being a proxy word for all things relevant to keeping an agent alive and evolutionarily relevant.

All I can suggest is to watch the two types of containers and see if this is relevant to your life.

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The Tether Theory and the Concrete, Subtle and Causal tiers

Epistemic status:  A bunch of meditation and meditation theory.  A previously undocumented theory of this corner of consciousness.

The book The Science of Pranayama offers that the thought stream is tethered to the breath via the prana, “Just as the bird that is tied to a post by a string”.  Meditation theory often uses animal analogies like the Ox Herder pictures.  Pointing out the great way describes, “It requires some effort to tie up a wild camel, and it takes some skill to untie the camel and have it stay”.  Other wild animals are also common to describe the untamed mind.

I put a lot of thought into this concept and applying it further than it was originally suggested.  I meditated while trying to observe for myself what was going on and why. There’s something subtle about the way a deep breath out will interact with the thought stream.  Feels like a sigh of letting go. I watch “emotional content” conversations and when I feel the need to take a deep breath, I notice when I don’t and when I should.

The Tiers of subjective experience

(Side note: Concrete is sometimes called “gross” and causal is sometimes called “very subtle” in different maps)

Concrete: This is the physical, physiological.  The beating heart, the breath.

A concrete tier injury looks like a broken leg.  Or a scratch wound. It takes time to heal.  Feeling hungry is not on the concrete level, we don’t die from feeling hungry (we die from starvation).  Feeling cold usually starts on the subtle level but there is a life threatening feeling of cold.

There is a bridge between Concrete and subtle tiers through experiences like “goosebumps” where they register as a physical state and as a subtle feeling, or some mix of the two.

Subtle: This is an aptly named tier because – it’s subtle.  An experience of the emotional subjective happens here.  I feel happy, I feel guilty. A few “weird” feelings and hunches like “gut instinct” that seem guiding but without being as easy to describe as the concrete tier.

A subtle injury is a panic attack or being distraught.  It is possible to be in an extended state of injury to this level but it’s not possible to “break a happy” or break a miserable in a way that it becomes permanently injured and requires time to heal like a broken bone or a scratch.  It is possible to set up a happy so that it leads straight to fear, i.e. “I’m not allowed to be happy because that’s when bad things happen”. In this sense, “Happy” and “Fear” are not broken themselves but they are routed through each other.

Causal: On this level are impersonal ideological drives.  This level is where meaning and purpose registers. When someone feels like “making a difference in the world” or “being part of something greater”, these register on the causal level, not quite a feeling but sometimes a drive.  The causal level is occasionally described as a void or various spirit-y phenomena.

A Causal injury might take days, months to become clear, it might take days, months or years to heal.  An example here is tricky to pinpoint but a loss of purpose or a disconnection from meaning might land here.  As a teenager, going through a break up hits the causal tier particularly strongly. As an adult (a divorce or) a break up does the same.  Relationships often register on the meaning level (for the kegan stage 3 particularly). Where it doesn’t just feel bad, it feels “dooming”.

About break ups – the interesting thing to note is that I could “break up” every day. It would be emotionally hard, but it would not cause death to me, there’s no “physical injury” to a “break up” despite it probably feeling worse than a broken bone.  For something with “break” in the name, something physical did not break.  With the open question of, “what took injury in a break up?” (some clues: expectations, intentions, plans, hope).  Note: a break up every day would probably start feeling like a heart attack, or conversely – complete numbness.

Not wanting to downplay the significance of the causal tier with a soft example like a break up, there are more ideological concepts than break ups on causal tier.  Imagine being subscribed to communism and the realisation that a lifetime of effort in that movement was ineffective towards it’s goals. Not a physical injury, likely some aspect of “feels bad” but there’s also a “aaaah noooo” experience that goes with this shift of understanding.

Where does mental illness fit?

The whole model relies on a re-conceptualisation of mental health as being a different kind of information.

My brief answer is, “Not as it seems”. Most mental health problems are not states of constant emotional pain, i.e. depression is not an equivalent “constantly broken” experience like a bone or scratch. It’s a mostly calm mind with small nudges towards less than amazing decisions for a very long time. (I can’t say too much in this spot around that – other than, “huh that’s weird, watch this space”).  Psychosis and mania seems like extended subtle tier experiences and I’m still trying to understand that.


The levels are connected with a tether (metaphorically a string that tugs on them to line up).  In various circumstances or people, the tether changes length or has freedom depending on all kinds of factors.  For example in summer I have more energy. I can take on more social adventures and play around more without feeling bad.  (Linking concept SAD)  

When I visit a foreign culture, my tether for “getting offended” (Feeling offended) is longer because on a causal level I recognise there is going to be parts of this culture where I don’t understand how it works.  

It may help to think of boats floating on a river, tied to each other.  Wherever any boat floats, the other boats will begin to follow. The river is the subjective experience of the external world, like summer, living in a warzone, being stressed at work, getting lots of sleep, etc.  There are plenty of examples of different river events that can direct the boats to travel around.

Example: Concrete to Subtle Tether

I exercise.  and I exercise routinely for a month.  At some point along the way, my depression lifts and my quality of life increases.  Further exercise will help to maintain my quality of life but it’s not a guarantee.

I stop exercising.  I spend a lot of time on the couch and TV-watching.  I do this for a few weeks and my desire to go out and do interesting activities diminishes.  I feel lethargic. I lose motivation and I wonder why. I feel like, “I should really exercise” but I don’t necessarily act.

In summer, my physical body is warmer.  I don’t feel hungry as often, and I stay awake longer without feeling tired.  I can exercise so hard that I injure myself and it can take days of pretending I am okay in order to seek help.  My subtle is strongly anchored in the present state of the concrete tier (I still move around fine despite injury) and my subtle takes time to catch up to the reality of physical injury.  Eventually I wake up with difficulty moving and my subtle tier catches up to feeling bad about this.

These tiers are tethered.

Example: Subtle to causal tier

I’m happy, curious and excited.  It doesn’t matter what I put my time towards, I enjoy the activity that I am doing.  Wherever I choose to engage my energy, feels like the thing that I most enjoy. I start new projects with this energy.  Explore fun ideas, and seem to have enough spare time to do anything I like.

I meet someone who is kind and generous.  They are involved in a church group. I feel good around them because I recognise them as being a great person despite having different beliefs about which groups to be invested in.  Eventually I follow them to church because it seems to have been good for them.

These tiers are tethered.

Example: Causal to subtle tier

I am working on my favourite hobby.  Someone whose opinion I care about makes a sly comment to invalidate my interest.  I laugh a little. Days later I am frustrated and annoyed at reality. With good meditation practices I could trace the problem back to the comment.  Without it I would just feel uncomfortable and confused as to why. I spend several days wondering why everything is shit. Sitting on the couch maybe, trying desperately to distract myself.  With more ADHD I forget and am doing 101 other projects. With less ADHD I have listless misery.

Without meditation – eventually I take a shower and have shower-thoughts time to make a little progress on the problem.  It either stays forever, or goes away by me working it out. Or I quit the project.

Example: Subtle to concrete tier.

I’m miserable.  I just went through a break up.  I don’t want to move my body. I want to stay in bed.  I haven’t showered in a few days. I’m eating ice-cream and chocolate but it’s really not helping.  Somehow this feels like I am honouring my emotional pain, in another way it feels pointless, but everything feels pointless right now.

When I get stressed at work, I eat more.  I get home after work and I am starving. I eat chocolate and snacks and I can’t seem to diet.  My friends encourage me to switch to fruit and I do that, I eat the fruit as well. Life is just too hard right now.

Example: Subtle to other tiers

I experienced the death of my grandfather.  I have an image in my mind of the temporary nature of life.  It’s left me a little shaken for days. I look at all the things he cared about and how some of them never got completed.  I wonder about what I’m working towards. I don’t rush to work today. I’m delicate to myself for a week or two and I find myself gradually floating back to where I was in life.

Example: Concrete to causal

I make friends with a dodgy crowd.  They drink heavily and they eat unhealthy foods.  This is great because drinking heavily helps me avoid the problems caused by heavy drinking.  I make this my lifestyle and I regularly drink to avoid connecting with my problems around avoiding purpose in life.  Social life is fun and I always laugh with my mates. Maybe that’s all there is to life?

Example: Causal to concrete

I believe in being part of something greater.  I give coins to homeless people and I always smile at strangers.  I want to make the world a better place and in these small ways I am connecting with a higher purpose.  I know it’s important because I regularly get comments about it and encouragement. I start to see people copying me and I watch a smile spread through a crowd as I pass.  I post happy things on social media and I watch as I brighten up people’s days. I live in a world which I choose to see as happy.

Working with the tiers

The, So you feel like shit guide starts with the concrete tier.  Have I had a glass of water today? Have I eaten recently?  Taken medication? Have I exercised today?

This is an excellent strategy.  The benefit of starting with the ground is that it’s easy to fix being uncomfortable and needing a toilet.  Many practices describe themselves as “grounding”. For me, I can check in with my body with a handful of probing questions that I make up myself.

  • Am I breathing? (duh!)  Take a deep breath.
  • Am I injured?
  • Am I sore?  Where?
  • How is my posture?  
  • Am I sweating or thirsty?
  • Am I hungry?  Do I need food?
  • Have I exercised?  Can I go for a walk?
  • Am I currently in physical danger?

There is a benefit to grounding checks for taking the mind out of past/present rumination and into the present moment, as well as the opportunity to solve these problems if relevant.

Following concrete checks, move on to subtle checks.

  • Am I currently distraught?  
  • Is there something that happened that keeps making me feel bad?
  • Do I need to complete the thoughts about that?
  • What’s the overall feeling quality of the whole saga?
  • Is there some trigger that keeps dragging me back to emotional pain?
  • Can I bring myself to a calm/neutral space emotionally?

Once I’m in a calm place on my concrete and my subtle, I can watch to see what’s happening.  This will usually mean physically being still (sitting), emptying out the current thought stream, and watching what happens next.  The next place my attention goes towards is likely to be a causal event.

For example:  If I am looking at some birds while I wait (a stimuli).  My mind sees one bird go to bite another bird. I kinda smile and think about how they remind me of little kids bickering.  Suddenly I recall a fight I had with a childhood friend and how upset I was. And how people seem to misunderstand me. And PAUSE.  Wow. That’s what’s bothering me on the causal level. The other day I tried to help someone and they got offended. For all my efforts to help and all my intentions, I am mad at myself for failing.

“Mad at myself for failing”.  Clarity around what I’m upset about can allow me to be compassionate to the part of myself that wants to do better.  I’m only mad because I want the world to be a better place, and yeah, I see that. Realising my drive on a causal level to make the world a better place helps me see how that tether is linked to my subtle emotions and how that’s linked to my procrastination on the physical level.

I think of my “realising” in the paragraph above as a movement on the causal level to loosen the tether between my other causal drive and my subtle emotional states.

No post of mine is ever complete without at least one picture, so here it is.  An idea (causal level entity) that can change the nature of tethers between the concrete (social situation) and the subtle (emotion – excitement/anxious) tiers.

Tiers are from integral theory, StAGES model, Buddhism several other theories that try to amalgamate the different subjective experiences of consciousness.  Mine are not full definitions of the tiers, especially causal (or “very subtle”) tier, which I find hard to describe.  For the purpose of further discussion it may be helpful to treat this as a rough map to someone else’s concept.

Thanks to my draft readers.  

Meta: I’ve been sitting on this post for a few months. Not sure how long it took to write.

word count: 2488

cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/yBhNgJwc7p5Bks3QR/the-tether-theory-and-the-concrete-subtle-and-causal-tiers

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Feedback from emotions


Mental health can often feel like the inability to get clarity around if it’s, “just me” or if it’s “the world” that’s crazy.  There’s an open question in any interpersonal problem “is it me or is it them”. Basic game theory might have you look at the general strategies and take a precommitment, like Tit for tat, with forgiveness.  Something like, “It’s always me” or “it’s always them” – as the opinion that is formed in response to the stimuli being presented.  These strategies tend to look like mental health problems when applied far too liberally. Some examples of these are in the List of Maladaptive Schemas.

If you play fixed mindset belief games, you will be bested by people who can see your fixed mindset and predict it.  And beat it.

Unfortunately for basic game theory, advanced game theory comes along and sees all the other people playing with Tit-for-tat, with forgiveness strategies and generates a one-up strategy whereby advanced game theoretic players can beat basic game theoretic players, Just by playing one move ahead of the basic players.

(movie: The Princess Bride)

Unfortunately for advanced game theory, there exists expert game theory players who have seen that strategy and devised advanced strategies for solving the “how do I beat basic, and advanced game players”.

And unfortunately for expert game theory players there exists the halting problem.  Where there will always be another level of play strategy.  And there will always be another strategy taking into account all previous strategies.  And this is an infinite loop.

how do I get feedback on an infinitely recursive system with the halting problem?

This question strikes at the core of the interface between self and the external world.  We are each a chinese room brain.  This is the problem of other minds.  When we design an experimental apparatus and attempt to glean feedback information from reality as if we are not in it, we don’t really answer the question here.

I only have one answer.  And it’s an unfortunately frustrating one.  I hint at the answer in the emotional training model but that’s not ultimately obvious enough.

Feedback has to come from within.  

How do I know what to do?  How do I gauge what is right and wrong where all I have to go on is the intention to gage right and wrong, and a collection of informational experiences that form my sensate reality including knowledge I have gathered by reading books, talking to people and experiencing life myself?

There is no “truth grain” external to the self; where, having found the truth grain, there is no need to be wrong ever again.  There is no fundamental reason why we can believe and trust external information more than internal information. (external information is only internally represented after all – with an assumption that we can comparably across brains; form equivalent internal representations of external information.)

I am ae enclosed brain.  Feedback has to come from within the system.  When I look in a mirror, I see a reflection of myself, but the reflection registers in the system.  The results of the reflection “wow I like the way I look” is a judgement call that happens from within the system.  When I ask my friend how I look and I receive the information that “I look as ugly as a bat out of hell”, that information registers inside the system.  Inside the brain. External validation is an illusion.

In that sense, if I didn’t already, now would be a good time to start liking myself.


Next: The third system

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Code switching

Related to: Hedging

Code switching is this useful linguistics concept that is not overtly known enough.

The type that I care about is a cross between “group identity” and “lexical need“:

Group identity: People may alter their language to express group identification. This can happen, for example, when introducing members of a particular group to others.[33]

Lexical need: People often use some technical terms or words written in another language. In that case, if people try to translate those words, that might distort the exact meaning and value of the word or term. In this case, code switching occurs to maintain the exact meaning of the word.

I care about cultural code switching.  But also a very particular problem where words in one “code” start to not be capable of describing the nature of the informational transfer.  Where words start to break down.

“have you tried turning up the volume on your attention?”

My recent investigations have shifted from the scientific structural rational playing field to the spiritual mystical enlightenment playing field.  If I had lexical problems before, they hit an all new level where each person’s lexical map is just comfortable being independent to each other person’s map.

How do I describe a wordless experience?  How do I transmit, record, encode or remind myself – what is the difference between “attention”, “awareness” and “focus”?

Awareness is broad and soft.  Attention is sharp, focus is the pointy part of attention.  If I think of focus as a lens pointing light to a single dot, that’s focus.  Awareness is a broad focus, but objects are not blurry per se, just taken to be as a holon, not as an individual.

And on it goes, with energy, awareness, emotions, colours, spirits, powers, understanding, confusion and so many many more codes.

The benefit of code switching, over say – rejecting someone for using certain words, is that it’s way more inclusive.  If I reflect internally that maybe I have misunderstood their code, then ask for clarification – I’m much more likely to treat them as a steelman than a strawman.  Take charitably what is said and from there…  grow.

Cross posted to: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Xcr8fj5TCERt93rEY/code-switch

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